The Secret to Building Endurance

by: Erin Warren | June 1, 2017

About ten years ago, my friend Sarah wanted me to run a half marathon with her. She knew she needed to find something really enticing to get me to agree and found a race where you get a Tiffany necklace at the end in place of a medal. I was sold. I sorta trained, but not really. I ran around my neighborhood and participated in some local races. With each race, I donned the right clothes, created a motivating playlist on my iPod and faked my way through the stretches. I worked out a couple times a week, so I was in decent shape. But I convinced myself that to be a true runner, I needed to run for the first mile of each race. It didn’t matter how long the race was; that was my goal. The problem was I didn’t have the stamina to run a whole mile. In my stubbornness to do what I said I would, I would push and overtire myself right off the bat.

Sarah is a true runner, and if you are too, you know my rookie mistake. A smart runner knows to rest (aka walk) before he or she gets tired. In fact, in one of the most prominent training programs, you run 2 minutes, walk 30 seconds, run 2, walk 30. Gradually you run longer and walk less frequently. That’s how you build endurance for a long run.

A smart runner knows that your endurance is dependent on rest.

I think the Apostle Paul may have known something about running. Six times in his letters he compares our calling as Christians to running or racing.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

I always looked at this verse and thought it meant to run full out for Jesus – as hard and as fast as we can, but when we take a step back and look at the history of running in the ancient world, it helps us see the true meaning of what Paul is talking about here.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, which is in Greece. They would have been familiar with running too. Running had been part of the Greek Olympics since it began in 776 BC. The race Paul is talking about here is the standard race called a stadion or stade, which was about 600 ft (the length of two football fields). And yes, most runners could run that distance flat out, but let’s break this passage down phrase by phrase:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?

In ancient Greece, there was no second place. Only one person was awarded the prize.

So run that you may obtain it.

The NIV translates this phrase this way: Run in such a way as to get the prize. This is where I got confused. If you only read this one verse, it seems Paul is telling us that following Jesus means running as hard and as fast as we can, like the Greek runners who ran as fast as they could for 200 yards. But when you read the next part, it brings a little more light to the meaning. I like how the NIV translates this one a little better as well:

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.

While it looks like running the race is all about running as fast as you can toward the finish line, the secret to a successful run is in the training. Paul says in verse 26 that he doesn’t run aimlessly. The Greek Word for aimlessly means “uncertainly,” and uncertainly, according the Merriam-Webster means “not clearly identified or defined; not reliable.” Paul implies that the race we run as Christians is defined, certain, clearly identified, like an athlete with a training regimen. The Greeks looked at training for the Olympics and sports as a science, and they developed a four-day training method called The Tetrad:

Day 1 – Preparation Day: used for toning, consisted of short, high intensity workouts

Day 2 – Intensity Day: long, strenuous exercises

Day 3 – Rest Day: short, mild workouts, but mostly rested

Day 4 – Medium Intensity: possibly wrestling, focused on tactics over strength

While during the race they may have run as fast as they could, the training is what enabled the runners to run well and rest was an important part of training, just like with modern runners. God didn’t design us to just run as fast as we could without training properly. There are many aspects Paul is talking about here, but I want to zero in on rest.

I often struggle with what rest looks like, but for right now in my life I’ve given it another name: margin. Margin means leaving space in my life, not just my schedule, but also my finances, friendships, etc. My word for the year a couple years ago was margin, and I came across this quote that says it better than I ever could:

“Margin is a powerful concept. It creates opportunities. For business, margin is one of your top priorities. Margin in business creates profits. Margin in family creates memories. Margin in our personal finances creates generosity. Margin in our friendships creates significance and impact. Margin in our lives overall creates options. Options to pursue dreams, think, pray, relax, meditate, process, grow and ultimately live life more fully. – Brad Lomenick, “Make Time for Margin” blog

When we don’t schedule every minute and spend every dollar, we leave room for rest. We leave room for quiet. We leave room to be generous. We leave room for moments of spontaneity that create memories in our families. We leave room to breathe. We leave room for God.

Notice too that the most intense day of training is the one that preceded the day of rest. Many times in our lives, we find ourselves in an intense situation. It takes everything we have to make it through each day, and we find ourselves crawling to our beds at night weary, exhausted and with nothing left. Many times these situations are out of our control. My family is in a chapter like this right now, and this is the most important time to live with margin. As I mentioned earlier, a runner can tailor their run/walk and training based on the distance they are running. A 5K would have a different strategy than a marathon. But often in life, we find ourselves in a race, and we don’t know how long we are going to be running. It’s imperative that we give ourselves the margin, the rest we need to build endurance. Otherwise, like me in my half marathon, you will burn out early, find yourself walking more than running, gasping for air and won’t be able to run with excellence.

I’m learning the secret to building endurance is margin.

When we take a moment to catch our breath, then we are better able to endure. We are better able to run the race set before us. Like Paul said, it takes discipline, but when we train well, we will find ourselves running well too.

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